Contaminants in air around Texas gas town: study

DALLAS Mon Oct 12, 2009 6:41pm EDT

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DALLAS (Reuters) - High concentrations of harmful compounds have been found in the air in a north Texas town that is in the heart of the region's gas industry, according to a report released this month by an environmental consultancy.

The study by Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants found high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds in the atmosphere at seven locations around the rural town of DISH, which is about 50 miles northwest of Dallas.

Carcinogens are linked to cancers while neurotoxins are toxins that act on nerve cells.

The report said the levels of several of the substances exceeded those that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) uses as benchmarks or triggers that could prompt it to investigate or take action.

The TCEQ is conducting its own studies in the area.

DISH is on the Barnett Shale, a large geological formation in north Texas that contains vast amounts of natural gas. In and around the town are pipelines, wells and several compressor stations owned by a number of energy companies including Chesapeake, Atmos and Crosstex.

The town hired the consultancy to do the study.

"The chemicals and concentrations that we found are consistent with other facilities that we have tested in and around the Barnett Shale. Many of these chemicals are related to the scenting process of natural gas because natural gas has no odor," said Alisa Rich, president of Wolf Eagle.

"I'm extremely confident that this is linked to the gas industry," she told Reuters in an interview. The data was collected over a 24-hour period in August.

She said the compressor stations were a special cause for concern because of the volumes of gas pumped through them.

"Atmos Energy does not believe that its operations in the DISH area make any significant contribution to the emissions of the chemicals listed in the Wolf Eagle Engineering study," Atmos said in response to an e-mail query from Reuters.

"Atmos Energy is aware that the TCEQ is planning additional emissions testing in this area in the near future and will cooperate fully with those efforts," it said.

Chesapeake and Crosstex declined to comment.

DISH's Mayor Calvin Tillman told Reuters he would like to see the compressor stations shut down "until we can know with confidence that they are not emitting these toxins."

The report is the latest to link environmental and health hazards with America's booming gas industry.

In August, U.S. government scientists announced that they had found for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Christian Wiessner)

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